There are now millions of veterans in the United States, and it’s unlikely that all of them are fully aware of their VA benefits and entitlements. Veterans have unique access to monetary and benefits that can extend to their parents, spouses, and children. In order to better understand these VA benefits, I urge veterans to speak with Jag or the VA. You served your country; you and your family made great sacrifices. These veteran benefits aren’t just something you’ve earned; you deserve them. This article will serve as a brief introduction to them.
Monetary Benefits for Veterans
Service members leave the military in various ways. Most leave after fulfilling a contractual service obligation or reaching a longevity service requirement. Those who are injured or become seriously ill are no longer fit for duty, and are usually granted either a medical discharge or medical retirement. A service member is ordinarily eligible for retirement after 20 years of honorable military service. Upon retirement from active duty, he or she receives retirement pay based on their rank, length of service, and historical base pay rates. Length of service retirement pay is subject to federal taxation, depending on which state the veteran lives in. Military retirement pays for disabilities incurred in combat, field training, or other hazardous arenas indicated on the veteran’s discharge orders. This disability pay is not subject to federal taxation; however, individual states may still consider this to be taxable income.
A retired service member and his or her family are eligible for the military’s health insurance, and can use military commissaries, post exchanges, golf courses, and other facilities on stateside military installations. A service member who becomes injured or seriously ill during his or her military service to a degree that renders them no longer fit for duty will be referred for a disability evaluation. If the
service members 30 percent or more disabled, he or she is given a temporary or permanent retirement, based on the severity of the injury. In the case of a temporary retirement, the veteran receives no less than half of his or her retired base pay, and will be periodically reevaluated for permanent status evaluation: either fit for duty, unfit for duty with severance pay, or medical retirement.
Being medically unfit for duty with a disability rating of less than 30 percent results in a lump-sum severance payment based on the service member’s years in service and their pay grade. Those who undergo medical disability evaluation are provided counsel if they opt for a formal hearing, either to contest the decision that they are unfit for duty, or to contest their disability rating. A service member is permitted to retain private counsel at his or her own expense for the formal hearing.
Active Duty to Veteran Status
A veteran is someone who served on active duty in the military and was discharged or released from the service under conditions other than dishonorable. Reservists or Guardsman who were mobilized or called up for active duty are also considered veterans. However, VA programs vary in their service requirements, and some cater specifically to disabled veterans. In cases of disability, many requirements are waived.
When a service member is discharged, Department of Defense Form 214 is universally accepted as proof of their veteran status. This document contains important information such as the veteran’s service dates, awards, training, rank, combat experience, characterization of discharge, and a notation if the discharge was due to a disability.
Health Care Veterans Benefits
All veterans are eligible for health care at VA health facilities. When it comes to healthcare, a disabled veteran may fall into one of eight different priority groups. These groups are based on a service-connected disability rating system. A veteran’s priority group determines whether he or she is responsible for co-payments. Veterans with a service-related disability of 50 percent or greater are entitled to healthcare covering any disability, including those not related to military service. For example, if a veteran had a disability rating of 70 percent and was therefore unable to take care of themselves, they would qualify for free admission into a VA nursing facility. This is particularly valuable information to have when conducting estate planning with the veteran’s family, or with those who don’t meet Medicaid guidelines.
Insurance for Veterans
Service members and reservists still serving in the military can enroll in Service members Group Life Insurance (SGIL), a low-cost life insurance program that provides up to 250,000 dollars in coverage. The premiums are static and not contingent on age. Upon separation from the military, a veteran who is discharged honorably will have the option to convert their SGLI into Veterans Group Life Insurance (VGLI). If a newly discharged veteran enrolls immediately after his or her discharge, they’ll be automatically granted approval for a VGLI policy. This approval won’t depend on factors in their health history such as past illnesses, smoking habits, or service-related disabilities. VGLI premiums are higher than SGLI premiums and are age-contingent; however, they cover death as a result of an act of war, terrorism, or ultra-hazardous activities, whether occupational or recreational. So, although VGLI or SGLI rates may not be as competitive as those of private insurance companies, they still may be some veterans’ only option when it comes to health insurance.
Veterans who sustained a service-related disability are also eligible for basic Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance (S-DVI). Within two years of becoming disabled, these veterans can purchase up to 10,000 dollars in coverage.
Education for Veterans
The VA offers several educational programs for veterans and their dependents. New veterans separating from active duty have ten years from their release date to take advantage of these. The same is generally true for Reservists. In some circumstances, time limits can be extended, and sometimes, service members are permitted to transfer their education benefits to one or more dependents. Service members who choose to do this can exchange educational benefits for other types of benefits and services.
The Montgomery GI Bill benefits veterans who entered active duty after June 30, 1985 and contributed 100 dollars per month for 12 months. Unlike other VA programs, the GI Bill requires veterans to have received an honorable discharge before they can take advantage of it. Discharge characterizations such as “general” and “under honorable conditions” render a veteran ineligible for this program. Individuals with service obligations lasting longer than two years currently can receive 985 dollars per month for full-time studies and 492.50 dollars per month for part-time.
The Veterans Educational Assistance Program is available to veterans who entered active duty between December 31, 1976 and July 1, 1985. Those who participate in this program have usually made contributions of up to 2700 dollars while in service. The VA will match these contributions on a 2 dollar to 1 dollar basis. Unused contributions are refunded to the veteran. To qualify, the veteran must have received a discharge under conditions other than dishonorable.
The Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program is offered to the spouses and children (ages 18-27) of permanently disabled, deceased, or missing veterans. Spousal benefits are subject to certain time constraints, and beneficiaries may receive up to 788 dollars per month. This is a program that seems to be forgotten by the veteran community. Millions of dollars are left unused every year. So, to all the veterans and dependents out there: there are so many scholarships available. Check before you pay for school! I had a soldier whose daughter wrote an essay for a scholarship. They thought she would never get it, but guess what? She did! When her parents asked how this was possible, they were told that their daughter was the only one who applied. Today, there is no reason a child or spouse of a veteran can’t obtain a degree, maybe even from Georgetown!
Home Loans for Veterans
One of the most valuable benefits offered to veterans is the VA home loan program, which allows veterans to buy a home with no down payment. To do this, a veteran must obtain a Certificate of Eligibility from the VA and approval for a specific loan amount. There are varying time-in-service requirements, depending on the era of service and whether the veteran served as an officer or an enlisted service member. Veterans of the Persian Gulf War era, which began in August of 1990 and is ongoing, are eligible for VA home loans if they completed 24 months of active duty service, the full period of active duty (at least 90 days as a reserve call-up), or were granted a hardship or early discharge. A reservist who has not been called up for active duty is eligible for a VA home loan after six years of selected reserve service.
Not only do VA loans come with no down payments, but the VA also limits the amount of closing costs and origination fees lenders can charge veterans. Additionally, they don’t require private mortgage insurance and they prohibit other lenders from requiring it. The VA does charge veterans a VA funding fee, which ranges from 0.5 to 3.3 percent of the loan amount, depending on the type of loan and whether it is the veteran’s first or second time using one. However, this funding fee can be waived if the veteran has compensation service-connected disability.
VA loans also come with a loan ceiling. The best way to learn about this is to contact a mortgage representative or loan officer. The VA can also give you some information on this matter, as can Low VA Rates, who I endorse. I have endorsed them for some time now, due to their commitment to veterans and veteran families. They have given to veterans and their families for years, and will continue to give for many more years to come.
There are many other benefits available to veterans and their families, like burial benefits. If a veteran dies after sustaining a service-related injury, a 2,000 dollar allowance is payable to his or her surviving family. As a veteran, I can attest that we have a right to contest the denial of these benefits, and that it’s important that we know and understand our rights as veterans long before we leave military service. I have had many experiences with helping former soldiers of mine utilize their benefits, and it is a lot more difficult to obtain assistance once you’re out of the military. So, before you leave service, get a copy of your Certificate of Eligibility, DD214 form, as well as all your medical records and awards. It’s always better to have too much information that too little. Don’t hesitate to use what you and your family have earned!